Two well-known phrases-"Diamond in the Rough" and "Lady Bountiful"-describe real people whose meeting in Spokane early in the 20th century led ultimately to the creation of one of Spokane’s best-kept philanthropic secrets-the Hutton Settlement. Built east of the city in 1919, it is still home to children in need of a safe haven.
Formed in 1887, the Ladies’ Benevolent Society was the oldest charitable organization in Spokane. The members of the society’s board-wives and daughters of Spokane’s founders and its leading business and professional men
embodied"Lady Bountiful." Strong woen with a clear sense of themselves, they personified the Progressive Era’s commitment to such reforms as mothers’ pensions, child labor laws, juvenile courts, and other issues centered around children. The all-woman board of the Ladies’ Benevolent Society operated an orphanage called Home of the Friendless.
The "Diamond in the Rough" was May Arkwright Hutton-best known for the marvelous combination of passion and audacity she brought to Washington’s campaign for women’s suffrage. History’s emphasis on her colorful personality has overshadowed her contributions to social causes and reform.
May Arkwright was born July 21, 1860, in a coal-mining community near Youngstown in northeast Ohio-the illegitimate daughter of Isaac Arkwright. When she was 10 years old her father took her out of school and sent her to care for her blind grandfather, Aza Arkwright. Preparing her grandfather’s meals made an excellent cook out of the young girl. She also guided the old gentleman to meeting halls and the town square where they would listen to speakers analyzing current events and commenting on political issues. On one landmark occasion the speaker was William McKinley, who was then just a young Ohio lawyer with political ambitions. After McKinley’s speech, Aza Arkwright invited him back to the house for some of his granddaughter’s homemade doughnuts and cider. May later recalled that McKinley had talked that evening about women’s rights. His words made her realize that women and men did not have equal rights.
Labor relations and working conditions in the Ohio coal mines were worsening, and miners began to leave for the inland Northwest, lured by reports of gold in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. A Northern Pacific Railroad pamphlet with exaggerated claims for the region’s potential wealth attracted May Arkwright from the Midwest.
Grandfather Arkwright always told her to "hitch [her] wagon to a star," and in 1883-at age 23-she boarded a train for Spokane Falls en route to the Coeur d’Alenes. On the westbound train out of Chicago she met Jim Wardner, an entrepreneur and town planner. He was promoting his new townsite on the south fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, and in the course of the trip May agreed to work in his café at Wardner Junction.
By working hard and saving her money, she acquired the means to open her own boardinghouse by the time a narrow gauge railroad was planned to run into the Bunker Hill & Sullivan Mine and on to the town of Burke. Her skill in the kitchen won her a host of customers and friends, including a quiet young railroad engineer named Levi Hutton.
Hutton and his locomotive were familiar and popular figures in Idaho’s silver valley. He had been orphaned at the age of six and badly treated by the uncle with whom he was sent to live. While opposites may indeed attract, May Arkwright and Levi Hutton had one thing in common-their far from idyllic childhoods. They were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1887 and soon moved to Wallace, where May opened a dining room.
Eastern capital controlled most of the mining in the Coeur d’Alenes, and working conditions and labor relations in Idaho’s silver district turned May into a staunch champion of labor. Threats of violence hung over the labor scene in 1899 when union miners struck the Bunker Hill over wages.
The Mine Owners Association had been waging covert warfare against the union-and the men retaliated on April 29, 1899, when nearly three-quarters of the 1,500 mine workers did not show up for work. Men wearing bandana masks over their faces commandeered Levi Hutton’s train. Others climbed on board as they headed to the railroad’s powder house. There they picked up a load of dynamite, stuck a gun in Levi’s ribs, and ordered him to take them to Kellogg, where about 200 armed men got off and pushed on toward the Bunker Hill Mine.
The mine blew up at around two in the afternoon-and the blast was felt for miles. Five days later Governor Frank Steunenberg declared martial law. Federal troops herded all men holding union cards into an enclosure at Wardner. The hijacked Levi Hutton ended up in the "bull pen" as well. He could not-or would not-identify the masked miners; he knew it would be suicidal to do so.
May Hutton did not even come close to the 19th-century ideal of genteel American womanhood. A large woman, she was vocal and opinionated and able to hold her own in the earthy give-and-take of life in the Coeur d’Alenes. When Levi landed in the stockade she lost no time in trying to free him, making daily visits to the prisoners and badgering the authorities. In their own salty language she harangued the military guards. Levi was finally released, but his failure to cooperate cost him his job with the Northern Pacific. This meant he was now free to work full-time at a mine claim in which he and his wife had a minority interest.
Few people in the Coeur d’Alenes at that time could resist keeping an eye on the main chance, and in 1889 two young men had optimistically staked a claim that they named the Hercules Mine. Levi Hutton had worked with them at the claim when he was not running his locomotive. He and May had saved enough from her earnings at the dining room and his with the Northern Pacific to invest in the Hercules. They purchased a 3/32 share for $880. Their stake finally amounted to about a 10 percent interest.
On June 2, 1901, after years of hard, grueling labor, the men broke through to a vein of ore that would change all their lives. May Hutton followed developments at the Hercules and kept the miners well fed when they gathered each evening in her dining room to eat supper and discuss their plans. It still took a huge amount of work to realize the mine’s potential. But work they all did, and by the end of 1903 the mine was yielding a net profit of $40,000 a month. In 1906, the year before the Huttons moved from Wallace, the mine paid the partners $880,000. By 1925, before the mine was worked out and closed down, the Huttons’ investment in the Hercules and their hard work had netted them close to $2 million-in early-20th-century dollars. A modern-day equivalent to the Hercules owners would be those first few people who struck the mother lode at the fledgling Microsoft.
After their silver strike, the Huttons moved into a larger and better house. Wallace society, ruled as it was by an elite of mine owners’ wives, would not accept May Hutton, even when she became a mine-owner herself. Those ultra-proper Victorian women scorned her assertiveness, nonconformity, and lack of formal education, her background as a boardinghouse proprietor, her flamboyant taste in clothes, and perhaps above all, her pro-labor sympathies.
Undaunted by Wallace society’s snobbery, May read widely-from classical literature to political tracts. She joined the Wallace Shakespeare Club (apparently the Shakespeareans were more egalitarian), and increased her vocabulary. With a talent for persuasion and a flair for vivid expression, she became a convincing speaker. The couple entertained in generous fashion in their Wallace home-their guests included such notable easterners as suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt and attorney Clarence Darrow.
The Huttons left the Coeur d’Alenes for Spokane in 1907. Levi Hutton had confidence in the city’s future, and in the spring of 1906 he started construction of the Hutton Building-a four-story brick office structure downtown on Washington Street. A lavishly furnished nine-room apartment on its top floor was the Huttons’ home until 1914.
May Hutton was now completely free to pursue the causes she cared passionately about. She met the same rebuffs from society leaders in Spokane that had assailed her in Wallace, but she plunged undeterred into political and suffrage activities. One who knew them at the time said that Levi Hutton was the ideal husband for May. He understood her enthusiasms, supported her in most of them, and rarely tried to hold her back as she forged ahead. Reportedly, he only admonished her not to make "a holy show" of herself.
An affirmed and committed Democrat, May Hutton had run for the Idaho state senate from heavily Republican Shoshone County in 1904 and lost by a narrow 80-vote margin. She had taken part in the successful Idaho women’s suffrage campaign, and gaining the right for women to vote in Washington became her paramount goal. She recruited large numbers to the cause, and the Spokane Equal Suffrage Association grew to be the largest such group in the state.
Puget Sound-based followers of
Emma Smith DeVoe, the suffrage leader whom May knew from her Idaho activities, soon saw her as a threat to their prestige and power. Things took an ugly turn when DeVoe supporters dug for scandal in her past and tried to expel her from the state organization. In 1909 the treasurer of the state association returned May’s dues with a note saying that she was ineligible for membership because of "your habitual use of profane and obscene language and of your record in Idaho as shown by pictures and other evidence placed in my hands by persons who are familiar with your former life and reputation." May was angry, to say the least, but it took more than that to deter the woman who had confronted martial law and survived the rigors of the mining frontier-she promptly organized the Washington Political Equality League and kept the suffrage issue alive in eastern Washington.
May Hutton had wanted to take the suffrage battle into the arena of party politics. This was one major bone of contention for the DeVoe faction in western Washington, who wanted to keep the suffrage issue above politics. As a delegate to the Democratic Party’s 1912 state convention in Walla Walla, May cast her vote for William Jennings Bryan and, not surprisingly, his support for free and unlimited coinage of silver. The convention did not give Bryan its delegates, but it did send May Arkwright Hutton on to Baltimore, making her the first woman ever named a delegate to a Democratic National Convention.
Woodrow Wilson won the party’s nomination in Baltimore, where May rubbed shoulders with the political elite. She won national celebrity and did as she pleased; her colorful reputation had preceded her. The eastern press found her irresistible and added to her reputation by reporting such escapades as doing her own laundry and hanging it from her hotel window.
But long before her fling in Baltimore, May Hutton had left her charitable mark on Spokane. Soon after the she and Levi moved from Wallace, May wrote to a friend there that they intended to make friends in Spokane and "work for the betterment of humanity." The couple’s charitable works defined the rest of their lives.
Levi joined in his wife’s humanitarian work, but she emphatically maintained, "I look after the charitable donations of the Hutton family," and one who knew them well said later that often May was the first to move into action. Early on she discovered Spokane’s Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers. She related sympathetically to the young women there and to the stigma of disgrace that unmarried mothers bore in those days. She provided something of a matrimonial bureau for them-combing the surrounding farms and ranches to find them suitable husbands-and the Huttons’ home became the site of many of their weddings. She maintained a long affiliation with the Crittenton Home board of trustees, and Levi served as its treasurer for years.
Soon after moving to Spokane May Hutton befriended the Home of the Friendless-the orphanage maintained by the Ladies’ Benevolent Society. In the spring of 1908 she wrote to a suffrage colleague, "All energies are directed this week toward raising $40,000 for the Home of the Friendless in Spokane." The orphaned Levi Hutton related as sympathetically to the children there as had his wife to the Florence Crittenton women. When she became involved, he too embarked on a close and generous association with the orphanage, which was soon renamed the Spokane Children’s Home.
May continued her push for reform. After the suffrage victory in 1910 she had been one of the first women to serve on a Spokane County jury; she spearheaded the creation of Spokane’s juvenile court and the drive to secure matrons to supervise female prisoners in the city jail. The mayor appointed her to his newly established city charities committee. Though they often disagreed, he asked her to stay on when her term expired. He said there was no one with "her common horse sense and warm heart" to replace her.
May Hutton’s reach extended far beyond Spokane-she was an inveterate letter writer, and the collection of her letters at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane is a gold mine for researchers. One of the Women’s History Consortium’s projects in celebration of the Washington women’s suffrage centennial has been to scan the letters for online retrieval. The letters show that May’s correspondents ranged across a broad spectrum and included such luminaries as John D. Rockefeller, William Jennings Bryan, Hiram Chittenden, and William O. Borah.
When she returned from Baltimore after the 1912 Democratic National Convention, May and Levi started construction of their dream home-a stately white colonial structure at 17th Avenue and Crestline. Completed in early 1914, it cost an incredible sum for the time-$68,000. The former Iowa farm boy bought enough land to build a small barn and keep a cow so that the one-time boardinghouse cook could have all the fresh cream she desired. They had more land than they could utilize and, in typical fashion, donated a large portion east of the house for the Lincoln Park playground-a gift to the children of Spokane that endures today.
Reveling in her new home, May Hutton held a housewarming for 2,000 guests that July. By then, though, her health had begun to decline. Later that summer she suffered a third bout with the kidney affliction known as Bright’s disease, which left her bedridden.
She had become such a potential force in national politics that William Jennings Bryan, who had recently resigned as President Wilson’s secretary of state, paid a visit to her sickbed during a peace-oriented tour of the West. Her condition improved to some extent, and she even organized another action group-Spokane Women for World Peace. The illness, however, had a devastating effect. Her "last hurrah" was to host a lawn party for delegates to the convention of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs in the summer of 1915.
That autumn, on the afternoon of October 5, May was upbeat as always when she received friends at home, but early the following morning she died peacefully in her sleep. The funeral, held in the Huttons’ home alongside Lincoln Park, drew a huge throng. The press reported that the crowd reflected a cross-section of Spokane, "society women and working girls, businessmen, rough miners and men from skid row, and young girls with babies in their arms and tears in their eyes. They had all come to say goodbye to a friend." People who over the years had grown to appreciate her goodness and the city where elite society had once spurned her now hailed May Hutton as "author, suffragist, philosopher, humanitarian, and probably one of the best known women in the great northwest…[who] in Spokane was generally beloved for her charitable and public-spirited activities." The house itself was flooded with floral tributes that day-including an enormous spray of red roses from the Ladies’ Benevolent Society.
The widowed Levi Hutton continued his generous support of the Spokane Children’s Home. In May 1917 he received a thank-you note from its secretary: "How good it was of you, Mr. Hutton, to again remember the Spokane Children’s Home with the magnificent present of $100.00…[how] gratifying to the Ladies’ Benevolent Society to have such a thoroughly good and loyal friend." That same month he bought a new Pierce-Arrow, had his old car repaired and painted, and gave it to the society. They immediately voted "to sell the horse and wagon [since the car will facilitate] gathering up things" such as donated clothing.
Bigger and better things were to come from Levi Hutton-he volunteered his office in the Hutton Building for the organization’s meetings, and after one of those meetings, during which they discussed their $5,000 mortgage on the Children’s Home building, Hutton paid it in full.
In a small record book that he kept, Hutton wrote on August 27, 1917: "I have this day purchased one hundred eleven acres of land ten miles north east of Spokane for a place to build an orphan’s home." He told the press, "I am giving the children’s home to be erected on the site to the Ladies’ Benevolent Society of Spokane without any strings." Emphasizing that he was building a home, he said:
I have a warm place in my heart for orphans because I know what it means to be an orphan… No orphan in the Inland Empire will be turned away…, no matter what his sect, creed or color may be. It will be a real home for boys and girls… My ambition had always been to build such a home and when I met with the Ladies’ Benevolent Society…and laid my plan before them, they approved it and the idea of my youth began to bear fruit.
To say that the ladies approved it understates their reaction. The group’s September meeting was described in the minutes as "a regular jubilee." Levi Hutton had no reservations or qualms about dealing with women on an equal footing. He closely involved the board’s ladies in planning for the new home in the valley. He wanted them to understand all the plans and satisfy his goal of bringing a mother’s touch to his home for children, which he had decided to call the Hutton Settlement. The ladies made major design and furnishing decisions and devised their own committee system for operating the home, which continues in practice today.
Five buildings went up in the Spokane Valley-an administration building and four fine residences that still are known as "the cottages." They were designed by architect Harold Whitehouse, whose list of credits includes Spokane’s glorious Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Seattle’s Church of the Epiphany, and academic buildings for both the University of Washington and Washington State University. Whitehouse’s settlement buildings received national recognition in 1920 from Architectural Forum when that prestigious journal ran a three-part account of the campus’s planning and construction.
Hutton took quiet pride in his creation as it rose in the shadow of the foothills, not far from the Spokane River. Whitehouse did everything possible to meet Hutton’s wish for a "homelike atmosphere." Each cottage-two for boys, two for girls-accommodated 25 children. One matron presided in each cottage. All other staff lived in the administration building, which contained a combination auditorium-gymnasium and a fully equipped infirmary. The Hutton Settlement was managed by a resident superintendent on the campus and an administrator in town with offices in the Hutton Building. Levi himself filled the latter role. He visited the campus frequently, and the children living there in the 1920s called him "Daddy Hutton."
His own farming background and strong work ethic determined that the Hutton Settlement would essentially be a working farm. In the years prior to World War II boys were supervised by a resident farmer as they worked in the fields and cared for the cattle, hogs, and chickens. The girls gathered produce from the huge garden and helped with canning and preserving under the watchful eyes of their cottage matrons. During the school year the children attended public schools in the area, and the ladies on the board encouraged and supported those who qualified for college or vocational school after their graduation from West Valley High School.
Some who grew up in the Hutton Settlement during the 1920s and 1930s remembered sledding in the winter, playing indoors in the cottagebasements and screened porches, and spending long summer evenings in popular activities like run-sheep-run, red rover, and dodgeball. The addition of an outdoor swimming pool in the mid 1920s provided welcome relief during the hot Spokane Valley summers.
In February 1919-during the final phase of planning for the new home-the board received a severe blow with the sudden death of its president, Fannie Shaw Lewis, who epitomized board dedication and involvement. Shortly after the Lewises’ move to Spokane in 1884, Fannie had joined the Ladies’ Benevolent Society, and she had been its president since 1907. From Levi Hutton’s first suggestion of a new children’s home, she had worked with him and Harold Whitehouse to create the Hutton Settlement. The board elected Agnes Cowley Paine to succeed her. She was reluctant to accept; but after thinking it over she agreed that, "for the sake of the little children," she would do all she could. Her contributions to the Hutton Settlement turned out to be monumental.
In turning to Agnes Cowley Paine, the Ladies’ Benevolent Society tapped deep into Spokane history. The Cowleys were among the first non-native families to settle Spokane. Agnes Cowley was born in 1873 into an exceptional family. Her college-educated mother and her father, an ordained minister, created a home that radiated a deep sense of mission, a love of learning, and an advanced regard for the rights and abilities of women.
As president and prototypical Hutton Settlement board member, Agnes Paine embodied the spirit and qualities that have sustained the Hutton Settlement. Strong, educated, and caring women have followed her onto the board, includeing her own daughter-Margaret Paine Cowles-who joined the settlement board in 1935 and served for 56 years. Board membership is a lifetime commitment, and the board ladies’ stewardship has been shrewd and prudent. In running the Hutton Settlement they have been guided by Levi Hutton’s deed of trust, which transferred to them not only the property in the valley but all of Hutton’s real estate holdings in the city as well-and they were considerable.
The home opened in November 1919; incorporation followed in January 1920. The board women had continued to run the Spokane Children’s Home while dealing with construction and design decisions regarding the new facilities. Hutton Settlement and Benevolent Society board rosters overlapped for quite some time-Agnes Paine served as president of both boards until 1921. Dual memberships gradually tapered off, but a few Hutton Settlement charter board members stayed with both organizations into the mid 1930s.
Many have assumed that Levi Hutton, in building the Hutton Settlement, was simply carrying out his wife’s wishes-that the two of them planned it or that he built it in memory of her. That was not so. While it certainly reflected May Hutton’s interests and sympathies, the Hutton Settlement was Levi’s creation. In a letter to Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, he stated that the settlement was his idea and that he and May had never discussed establishing a children’s home. But of the woman who had said she looked after the charitable donations of the Hutton family, he remarked, "I am sure were she here today she would heartily approve all I have done."
The Huttons were an unlikely duo-the brash and resolute May Arkwright and the mild-mannered, hard-working Levi who toiled for years in the Hercules mine. They were of like mind, however, when it came to sharing their wealth with Spokane and working with aggressive dedication for the causes they believed in. May Hutton’s discovery and support of the Home of the Friendless had linked Levi to its all-woman board. No one in Spokane at the turn of the 20th century could possibly have imagined the enduring philanthropic legacy that would arise from that meeting of a "Diamond in the Rough" with "Lady Bountiful."
As an independent historian Doris Pieroth has long been active in Washington’s heritage community and written a number of books and articles on women’s history topics. This essay is taken from her June 2008 Curtiss Hill Lecture, presented at the Washington State Historical Society’s annual membership meeting.